Bible in One Year

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July 13 Day 194

How to Worship God

In his book, The Vision and The Vow, Pete Greig tells of how a distinguished art critic was studying an exquisite painting by the Italian Renaissance master Filippino Lippi. He stood in London’s National Gallery gazing at the fifteenth-century depiction of Mary holding the infant Jesus on her lap, with saints Dominic and Jerome kneeling nearby. But the painting troubled him. There could be no doubting Lippi’s skill, his use of colour or composition. But the proportions of the picture seemed slightly wrong. The hills in the background seemed exaggerated, as if they might topple out of the frame at any minute onto the gallery’s polished floor. The two kneeling saints looked awkward and uncomfortable.

Art critic Robert Cumming was not the first to criticise Lippi’s work for its poor perspective, but he may well be the last to do so, because at that moment he had a revelation. It suddenly occurred to him that the problem might be his. The painting had never been intended to come anywhere near a gallery. Lippi’s painting had been commissioned to hang in a place of prayer.

The dignified critic dropped to his knees in the public gallery before the painting. He suddenly saw what generations of art critics had missed. From his new vantage point, Robert Cumming found himself gazing up at a perfectly proportioned piece. The foreground had moved naturally to the background, while the saints seemed settled – their awkwardness, like the painting itself, having turned to grace. Mary now looked intently and kindly directly at him as he knelt at her feet between saints Dominic and Jerome.

It was not the perspective of the painting that had been wrong all these years, it was the perspective of the people looking at it. Robert Cumming, on bended knee, found a beauty that Robert Cumming the proud art critic could not. The painting only came alive to those on their knees in prayer. The right perspective is the position of worship.

July 12 Day 193

How to Restore Your Relationships

Hans worked his way up from being a miner to owning a number of mines. His eldest son, Martin, was very intelligent and went to university at the age of seventeen. A respectable career as a lawyer lay ahead of him. Suddenly, to his father’s dismay, he cancelled his registration for the law course and became a monk and then a priest.

Martin wanted to live a righteous life. He fasted for days and spent sleepless nights in prayer, but he was still plagued by his own unrighteousness before a righteous God. Around the age of thirty, as he was studying Romans 1:17, the penny dropped. He later wrote: 

‘I began to understand that in this verse the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous man lives by the gift of God, in other words by faith; and that this sentence, “the righteousness of God is revealed”, refers to a passive righteousness, ie, that by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “The righteous person lives by faith.” This immediately made me feel as if I had been born again and entered through open gates to paradise itself.’

This experience occurred 500 years ago. It not only changed his life, it altered the course of human history. He became one of the pivotal figures of western civilisation, the founder of the Reformation – the seedbed for social, economic and political thought. His name, of course, was Martin Luther. 

In essence, righteousness means a right relationship with God, which leads to right relationships with others. It is a gift made possible through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Here lies the secret of restored relationships – first of restored relationship with God and then all other relationships.  

July 11 Day 192

Your Words Are Powerful

‘The Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation.’ These words were in a speech given by Sir Winston Churchill to the House of Commons in 1940. Facing defeat, he inspired the nation to fight from the corner, urging them to brace themselves to do their duty and carry themselves in such a way that even a thousand years on people would still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ The speech was powerful, the nation responded and ultimately a lasting peace was achieved.

It is one of the speeches that shaped the modern world, displaying the power of words. Speeches have affected the outcome of war, women suffrage, human rights and many other issues.

The apostle James writes that although ‘the tongue is a small part of the body… it makes great boasts’ (James 3:5). This small instrument has enormous power. It can cause great damage but it can also bring extraordinary blessings. Your tongue is a powerful instrument. 

July 10 Day 191

Invisible but Invaluable

Every Monday morning, he phones our offices. He asks about the events and services taking place during the week, and the people involved in them. For decades, Charles and his prayer group have faithfully supported the church in prayer. They are examples of many in our church who intercede for us. Their prayers may be invisible but they are also invaluable.

The word ‘intercession’ generally means praying for someone else (although, it can also be used of praying for oneself). We are allcalled to intercession. The apostle Paul writes to Timothy, ‘I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority’ (1 Timothy 2:1–2). 

Jesus is the great intercessor. He ‘made intercession for the transgressors’ (Isaiah 53:12). He ‘is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us’ (Romans 8:34; see also Hebrews 7:25). The Holy Spirit also intercedes for us and through us: ‘The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express… the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will’ (Romans 8:26–27). 

In the Old Testament passage for today, we see Isaiah’s role as an intercessor. Interceding for others is part of the role of a prophet. Intercession was also made by kings, for example, David, Solomon, and Hezekiah. You, too, are called to this invisible but invaluable ministry.

July 9 Day 190

Trust in the Lord

One of the biggest obstacles to faith is the suffering of the innocent. It is usually one of the first questions raised in an Alpha small group: ‘If there is a God who loves us, how come there is so much suffering in the world? How come there is such injustice and oppression? 

These are very important and necessary questions but there are no easy answers. Yet God is able to meet us in the midst of suffering and struggles. Extraordinarily, it is often the people who have gone through the greatest suffering who have the strongest faith. They testify to the presence of God with them, strengthening and comforting them in the midst of their pain. Betsie ten Boom, as she lay dying in Ravensbrück concentration camp, turned to her sister Corrie and said, ‘We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.’

Faith involves trusting in the Lord. The people of God in the Bible looked out on a world of suffering. But they trusted in the Lord despite what they saw. 

July 8 Day 189

Listen to God

In all our relationships, listening is very important. As the philosopher and theologian, Paul Tillich put it, ‘The first duty of love is to listen’. 

Some people are very good at listening. General George Marshall said, ‘Formula for handling people:

  • Listen to the other person’s story.
  • Listen to the other person’s full story.
  • Listen to the other person’s full story first.’

Listening to God is one of the keys to your relationship with him. ‘To listen’, means to hear attentively, ‘to pay attention to’. Prayer means giving God your full attention first

July 7 Day 188

The Dangers of Pride

Back when I was working as a lawyer, I remember a very straightforward case that I thought I was bound to win. I was so confident I decided that it was not worth even bothering to pray about it or commit it to the Lord. 

When I stood up to speak, the judge asked me whether I was aware of a case that had changed the law in the last few days. I was not. The result was a very humiliating defeat. As the passage in Proverbs today warns (Proverbs 16:18), pride had come before a fall. 

In my humiliation, I cried out to God for help. I read the recent case. Then, I wrote an opinion saying I thought the decision was wrong and would be reversed on appeal. Thankfully, it was. 

We were able to go back to court and win the case. The solicitor, rather than judging me for my mistake, was kind enough to be impressed by the opinion I had written and sent me many more cases. So it became a double lesson; not just about the dangers of pride but also about the extraordinary grace of God and how ‘things work out when you trust in God’ (Proverbs 16:20, MSG).

I try not to forget the lesson I learnt about the dangers of pride and self-reliance whenever I stand up to speak. I would like to say that I have never made the same mistake again but it is a lesson that I have had to re-learn several times.

In English, the word ‘pride’ can have a good sense. For example, we would not say it is wrong for a person to be proud of their children, or to take pride in their work. However, when the Bible talks about pride it means something different from this and has very negative connotations.

It means to have an excessively high opinion of one’s own worth or importance; it suggests arrogant or overbearing conduct. It is the independent spirit that says, ‘I have no need of God.’ Arguably, therefore, it is at the root of all sin. How should we respond to the temptation and dangers of pride?

July 6 Day 187

How to Cope with the Challenges of Life

President John F. Kennedy said, ‘We stand today on the edge of a new frontier… but the new frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises – it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them.’ 

Life is a set of challenges, problems and hassles. We sometimes imagine that if we could just deal with the immediate challenge that we are facing, all our problems would be over. But life is not like that. If we resolve one problem, others are just around the corner.

The temptation is to see these challenges as preventing us from carrying out the ministry God has given us. In actual fact, dealing with the problems is the ministry. As one former Bishop of Kensington put it: ‘These are not the problems associated with the ministry, they are the ministry.’

The Bible is true to life. The psalmist faced pain and distress. Paul faced false accusation and the frustration of being kept in prison on trumped up charges. The kings in the Old Testament faced battles and a massive building project challenge.

As I read the passages for today, I am reminded that the relatively minor challenges, problems and hassles that I face are nothing compared to what the people of God have faced in the past, and still face around the world today.

July 5 Day 186

The Light of God's Smile of Blessing Is On You

After the terrifying, appalling and deadly terrorist attack during her concert in 2017, Ariana Grande returned to the Manchester Arena for the ‘One Love Manchester’ concert. Marcus Mumford, lead singer of the band Mumford and Sons, opened the concert by proclaiming that ‘love casts out fear’. In the middle of the concert, Justin Bieber declared, ‘I’m not going to let go of love, not going to let go of God. God is good in the midst of darkness. God is in the midst. And he loves you. And he is here for you.’ It was like a bright light in the midst of the darkness.   

St John of the Cross spoke of the ‘dark night of the soul’. I have gone through dark times in my life. There were dark times for the people of God both in the Old and New Testament times. There have been dark periods in the history of the church. But the light of the gospel has never gone out. The light of Jesus will always outshine the darkness around (John 1:5). You have that light within you by the Holy Spirit and wherever you go you bring a light greater than the darkness around you.

July 4 Day 185

Opposition Turned into Opportunity

Stephen Lungu came to our home and told me his story. He is the oldest son of a teenage mother from a township in Zimbabwe. She was trapped in a difficult marriage to a man more than twenty years her senior. She dealt with her struggles by drinking heavily.

One day, when Stephen was three years old, his mother took him, his brother and baby sister into town. Saying she needed to go to the toilet, Stephen’s mother left him holding his sister in the busy town square, while his brother John played on the ground. Two hours later she had not returned. Their mother had run away, leaving the three children in the reluctant care of an aunt. By the age of eleven, Stephen too had run away – preferring to live on the streets.

Growing up, Stephen developed a strong bitterness against God. As a teenager he was recruited into one of the urban gangs, called the Black Shadows, which carried out violence, theft and destruction on the streets of Zimbabwe.

When a travelling evangelist came to town to speak to thousands of people about Jesus in a large tent, Stephen went to firebomb the event. He carried a bag full of bombs. He wanted to attack the event because he wanted to attack God. As Stephen awaited the moment for his attack, Shadrach Maloka, a South African evangelist, took to the stage and announced that the Holy Spirit had warned him that many in the audience may die soon without Christ. Astonished, the Black Shadows thought someone had figured out their plan. Stephen Lungu was captivated by the preacher. 

In each of the passages for today we see attacks of various kinds and how God turns opposition into opportunity.